Our Biggest Crisis: Education

In the 19th Century, the United States had a few great ideas, such as Lincoln freeing the slaves and founding the transcontinental railroad. However, the most important idea was free public education, advocated by Horace Mann. Since then, public education became a key factor in U.S. productivity, through literacy, and in governance, through informed citizenry. However, in recent decades, public education has declined seriously, and has become a vehicle for exacerbating inequality, rather than offering a ladder to economic opportunity for the disadvantaged (to quote Jefferson: [some of]… the best geniusses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expence, so far as the grammar schools go.) Jefferson was not PC, but he did realize the untapped human capital available from all strata of society.

2015 rankings have the U.S. 24th in Science and Reading and 38th in Math, out of 57 OECD countries. Slovenia must be a great country, because it’s ahead of us by every measure. Another 2016 study pointed out that U.S. per capita GDP was 6th highest in the world, but Despite a well developed and one of the strongest economies in the world, the educational systems … are not even cracking in the top 10. ”   But our performance is MUCH worse than that, as shown below.  Our Education ranking is 19 places lower than our GDP ranking.  Only Luxemborg is worse.  In contrast, Estonia ranks 2nd in Education, while only 28th in GDP (a gain of 26 places).  Canada is 3rd in Education while only 14th in GDP, a gain of 11 places.

GDP ranking minus Education ranking

So what? Education is critical to our nation, our economy, our government, and our well-being. With Bain reporting the expected loss of 40 million jobs to automation by 2030, we need more well-educated citizens, because the rote jobs are going down. One indication that we don’t have enough well-educated people is the H1B Visa program, which brings in talent the U.S. is not “raking from the rubbish” itself, despite having the 3rd largest population in the world. Why are we not developing our own citizenry to fulfill the jobs we are creating?

So what? Here’s a causal map of the societal factors affected by education (click diagram to open a larger view in a separate window). Bottom line: Education affects health, individual and collective wealth, happiness, and our national security. And it’s a great investment. This study found a net benefit of $127,000 per student, including increased taxes paid on wages, reduced costs of public health, crime & justice, and welfare – a return 2.5 times greater than the costs. Download a more thorough study of The Impact of Education on Economic and Social Outcomes here, for economic analysis of many of the factors shown in the causal diagram.

Our failure to develop our citizens is already doing damage to our Democracy, our planet, and our citizens. Let’s walk through the causality for those unfamiliar with such diagrams. Note that the arrows can reflect positive OR negative forces. Education creates a Skilled Workforce, which leads to Innovation and economic Growth through efficiency and competitive advantages. [If we don’t have enough skilled people, we augment with the H1B visa immigration route.] Education also creates a Foundation for future generations to build upon, from the advantages described in our post Inequality Starts At Home. Or, without education, undermines and disadvantages children, leading to growing inequality, unrest, and lost human potential.

Those without education are more likely to have Unwed Births, worse Physical and Mental Health, and more Poverty. Uneducated citizens are also more likely to be deceived by manipulative Propaganda, of which we have seen a rapid increase in the past decade. Poorer citizens are more prone to Crime and Violence. Poor Mental Health also leads to more Crime, and to Drug Abuse, and harms Physical Health. Crime, Drug Abuse, and both types of poor Health increase our Healthcare Costs, which undermines the Economic Health of the country. Crime also directly undermines our Economy in costs of law enforcement & detention, loss of tax revenue and property damage. Crime also decreases Happiness. Poverty increases Inequality, which decreases Happiness and decreases Social Trust. Social Trust is key to our Democracy – leading to Political Engagement (or not) and to Civic Participation (e.g. charitable activities, church, volunteer participation, government service). And the level of Political Engagement and Civic Participation strengthens or weakens our Democracy (reduced participation increases the power of vested interests). A major example of the harm of lack of Political Engagement and Propaganda is the Climate Crisis, which the rest of the world realizes is the major issue facing humanity, and is going to cost Trillions of dollars and uncounted lives, but from which issue the U.S. has withdrawn from taking coordinated action. And the costs of the Climate Crisis are also undermining our Economic Health (ask Houston or Puerto Rico). Finally, our Economic Health impacts our Happiness, for better or worse.

The problem with fixing Education is that it is a slow-motion train wreck, unlike the hot button topics of immigration, terrorism, corruption, etc.  But if we’re serious about fixing our Infrastructure, Education is the first, best use of our limited resources.

[This Post is considered Half-Baked, being the product of a decent amount of research and thought, but not yet having a round of critical review. We welcome your improvements to our evidence, reasoning, or the presentation thereof.]

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